As far as Mark Harris is concerned, the recent round of pay hikes for first-year associates at some of the nation’s biggest law firms is the equivalent of applying a Band-Aid to a head wound.
The salary increases to $160,000 for first-year associates may eventually affect compensation for the lawyers who work at the 170-attorney shop that he founded seven years ago. But, for now, they underscore what he says is a flaw in the traditional law firm model — one that will only get worse as younger lawyers replace their older colleagues.
“There’s a very real psychographic shift with this generation,” said Harris, 37.
His company, Axiom Legal, is one among a handful of law firms, most launched within the last few years, that are wooing up-and-coming attorneys from top schools with impressive work experience to become part of what they say are operations far leaner than typical law firms.
Formed under varying business structures, these shops tout the advantages of offering drastically cheaper rates for corporate clients and a different work culture for highly credentialed attorneys put off by big-firm practice.
Besides Axiom Legal, other alternative-style firms with a similar mission include Atlanta-based FSB Corporate Counsel; San Jose, Calif.-based GCA Law Partners; Minnetonka, Minn.-based The General Counsel; and Houston-based Outsource GC.
Attorneys for these outfits work mostly on-site in corporate counsel offices and, typically, are free from the burden of billing huge numbers of hours to support high rents and leveraged partners. These organizations also generally reject the comparison to temporary employment agencies or staffing firms and say that their attorneys are hired for the long haul. They also say that they bring aboard only people with experience either in a top firm, in law departments or both. Their clients range from Fortune 50 companies to smaller technology startups that need a kind of part-time general counsel.